Mary-Louise Parker: ‘My Heart Is Aching’ for the Return of Live Theater

Mary-Louise Parker was thrilled to be nominated for a Tony, of course. But what she most looked forward to was what followed: Telling her mother. “She was really happy, and that made me happy,” she said.

Parker’s best lead actress in a play nomination for her role as a creative-writing professor grappling with a cancer diagnosis in Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside” is the fourth Tony nomination of her career. (She won in the same category for her portrayal of a mathematician in David Auburn’s “Proof” in 2001.)

In an interview on Thursday afternoon, she discussed what she has missed most about live theater, who her dream audience member would be and how she has changed since her last Tony win nearly 20 years ago. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Live theater has been at a standstill for the past seven months. Is it weird not having lines in your head all the time?

My heart is aching. I just want to see a ghost light. I want to hear someone call, “Places!” I want to walk through the stage door. There’s just something about theater — even nights when I feel like I’ve only done a decent job, I feel like I’ve given something in a way I don’t on film or TV. It feels like I’ve exerted all my energy.

You were set to star in a revival of the Paula Vogel play “How I Learned to Drive,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1998.

I want to be able to bring “How I Learned to Drive” to the theater again. I just can’t wait. I really hope that happens.

How have you changed as an actor and a person since you won your Tony for “Proof”?

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to have children, and now I have my two kids. I never had a priority beyond theater on any given day — I would always get to the theater ridiculously early, and I still do. But it was a strange feeling once there was something in my life that eclipsed the theater, even a little bit.

Your kids are now teenagers. Did they get to see you in “The Sound Inside”?

My son came like 10 times, and my daughter was backstage a lot. There was a little room across from my dressing room where she’d sit and do her homework. They were proud of me. It was just the greatest feeling.

If you could have anyone in the audience, alive or dead, who would you pick?

No one’s going to top my dad, I’m sorry — not even Jesus.

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